Magnificent seven women from Howard’s time

22 October 2018


The recent decisions of two women to retire at the next Federal election have put something of a spotlight on the Liberal Party.  For longer than I can remember, the Liberals have been accused of having an anti-woman culture.  Critics cite the fact that the Liberals don’t have “quotas” or targets for a minimum number of women MPs as evidence of bias against women.

I’m not sure about that.  The Liberals always insist on choosing election candidates on merit rather than gender, or other physical characteristics, but they often seem to field men as candidates in winnable or safe seats at election time.  At least that often looks like the case.

The Labor Party, on the other hand, aimed long ago to allocate a certain proportion of winnable seats to women.  And invariably we see more female MPs in the Labor ranks than the Liberal ranks.  Mind you, many women ending up in parliamentary seats seem no better than the men around them, and some women are worse.

But there have been women, on both sides of politics, winning seats from sitting men, sometimes against expectations, and proving to be very good MPs.  At times, such has been their effectiveness that their parties have lost seats without them.

In terms of the two Liberal women deciding to retire at the next Federal election, Julia Banks and Ann Sudmalis, I think that their seats could fall without them.

Certainly I don’t believe that the Liberals can hold Chisholm, which Banks gained from Labor at the last election, in 2016.  Located in eastern Melbourne, Chisholm has been something of a swinging seat.  Banks won it when Labor MP Anna Burke retired, while Burke herself won it when Liberal MP Michael Wooldridge departed to contest another seat in 1998.  In fact, Banks was the only Liberal candidate from that 2016 election to gain a seat from Labor.  With the Liberals ultimately winning the election by one seat, could Banks have been their saviour?

As for the seat of Gilmore, in southern New South Wales, Sudmalis won it in 2010, upon the retirement of a Liberal MP who’d won it from Labor in 1996.

However, in terms of how the Liberals deal with women in their ranks, Sudmalis should talk her predecessor in Gilmore, Joanna Gash.  I think that Gash definitely would’ve said something about an anti-woman culture if she’d sensed it.

In fact, the mention of Gash makes me think of a number of Liberal women whose ability to win at election time had much to do with the success of John Howard, who led the Liberals to a thumping win over Labor in 1996 and was Prime Minister for eleven years.

When Howard won in 1996, among the new Liberal MPs gaining seats from Labor were eleven women – or a cricket team of women, which could be an appropriate description because of Howard being a big fan of cricket!

The swing against Labor in Howard’s 1996 win was such that thirteen people from the Keating ministry lost their seats.  Twelve of those ministerial casualties were men, the exception being parliamentary secretary Mary Crawford in Queensland.

Of those twelve men lost from the Keating ministry, seven lost their seats to Liberal women.  Crawford also lost her seat to a Liberal woman, Kay Elson.  Another three Liberal women unseated Labor backbenchers, all of whom were men.

Of these eleven Liberal women to unseat Labor MPs in 1996, four were lost at the next election, in 1998.  Mind you, more of them were expected to lose in 1998 with voters supposedly coming back to Labor after the 1996 beating.  But those Liberal women to survive in 1998 would go on to hold their seats at election after election, and they had a lot to do with Howard’s longevity as PM.

Gash was one of seven Liberal women to gain seats from Labor in 1996 and then hold their seats at subsequent elections.  As such, I have no qualms about calling them a kind of “magnificent seven”, as far as Liberal women MPs go.

Apart from Gash, Jackie Kelly and Danna Vale came from NSW.  Teresa Gambaro was from Queensland, as was Elson.  The other Liberal women to mention in this context are Fran Bailey from Victoria and Trish Draper from South Australia.

Three of these women held their seats beyond 2007, when Howard lost an election, whereas the departure of three more of them saw Labor win their seats.  Gambaro was the only woman to be defeated, in 2007.

The questions about women in Liberal ranks always make me think hard about those magnificent seven women from Howard’s time.  Had they felt uneasy, they would’ve spoken up and embarrassed Howard.  But he looked after them.  Those days, however, seem distant when Liberals face questions about women now.



Closeness in Wentworth

20 October 2018


The Liberal Party had one of its darkest-ever moments in New South Wales around this time forty years ago.  Back in October 1978, it suffered a big election loss to the Labor Party.  While that in itself was bad enough, making it worse was that among the Liberal MPs to lose their seats was Opposition Leader Peter Coleman.

Despite only narrowly leading Labor into office two years earlier, after a very close election result, Neville Wran proved effective and popular as Premier.  The Liberals couldn’t really trouble him.  As such, when an election was held in October 1978, the narrow Labor majority became a big one.

And Coleman was among the casualties.  He’d become Liberal leader the year before, taking over from Sir Eric Willis, who’d been Premier until losing an election, albeit narrowly, to Wran.  Such was Wran’s popularity that Labor picked up seats normally considered safe for the Liberals.  Among them was Fuller, in northern Sydney, held by Liberal leader Coleman.  A big election loss was bad enough, but for the Liberals to also lose their leader would’ve been dreadful.

Interestingly, also among the normally-safe Liberal seats falling to Labor back then was Willougbhy – nowadays the seat of current Liberal leader and Premier Gladys Berejeklian.  But Labor lost that seat at the next election, in 1981.

As for Coleman, he ended up in Federal Parliament, entering via a by-election.  This followed the resignation of Liberal MP and former minister Bob Ellicott.

The by-election was in the eastern Sydney seat of Wentworth – the very seat where today another by-election is taking place.

Coleman held Wentworth until departing in 1987.  His successor was John Hewson, who became Liberal leader after an election defeat in 1990.

It wouldn’t have been easy for Hewson to be Opposition Leader when going against Bob Hawke, who’d been Labor leader and Prime Minister since 1983.  Admittedly, he’d begun to look stale before Hewson’s rise, but he was still popular enough.

However, Hewson did well enough to trouble Labor into dumping Hawke as leader, and therefore PM, in favour of Paul Keating in late 1991.  Hawke quit Parliament during the following year, and his old seat of Wills, in northern Melbourne, ended up falling to an Independent in a by-election.

As for Keating, he was never popular among voters.  But he had the political skills and judgement that Hewson seemed to lack, and beat him at an election in 1993.

This was a shock win, because nobody really believed that the unpopular Keating could’ve won – especially the Liberals.  But Hewson, former a governmental adviser with a background in economics, didn’t quite have it to beat Keating.

Two years after this loss, Hewson quit Parliament – sending Wentworth voters once more to a by-election.  His successor was Andrew Thomson, who became a minister after the Liberals won office in 1996.

Ahead of an election in 2001, Thomson faced a challenge for Liberal preselection, and lost to Peter King, which ended his career.  In early 2004, King was challenged for preselection and lost, to a candidate who went on to become a senior minister several years later and then Prime Minister in 2015.  That candidate was Malcolm Turnbull – the rest we know.

Despite being quite popular among voters across Australia, Turnbull was always widely distrusted within Liberal ranks.  Many MPs, especially conservative ones, couldn’t abide his progressive views on environmental issues and other things.

Earlier this year, after a fairly significant swing against the Liberals at a by-election in Queensland, conservative MPs began plotting to get rid of Turnbull, who was regarded as unpopular among voters in Queensland in particular, and Queensland was where the Liberals had many marginal seats.

This led to Turnbull facing a leadership challenge, not once but twice, within one week.  When the second challenge came about, after enough Liberal MPs supported spilling the leadership, Turnbull pulled the pin and quit Parliament – which brings us to today’s by-election.

At first glance, it shouldn’t mean a big deal.  Wentworth has long been a safe Liberal seat, which Labor has never held.  But Turnbull’s downfall has causes much anger among Liberal voters in Wentworth, many of whom share his progressive stands regarding environmental issues and so forth.  They’ve regarded Turnbull as their champion, and they think that his own MPs did him over.

Although Labor can’t win Wentworth, the Liberals are facing a big challenge from well-known doctor and Independent candidate Kerryn Phelps.  She’s been regarded as someone to whom unhappy Liberal voters could turn if they couldn’t trust Labor as such, and many Labor voters could back her if they see her as having a greater chance of winning than Labor could ever have.

Phelps might be seen as believing as many things that Turnbull believes in, which makes her attractive to Liberal voters dirty over his downfall.

If the Liberals lose Wentworth, they’ll lose their one seat majority, which Turnbull left them after a close election result in 2016.  This could possibly see them tipped out of office, if enough crossbench MPs see fit.  Many Liberals in Wentworth seem afraid of tipping the Liberals out, despite their anger over Turnbull.

The by-election today could therefore go either way.  I tip Phelps to win, albeit after quite a close contest.  The Liberals could still win it, but I tip them to lose.  Closeness brings much attention, and it’ll be in Wentworth for sure once this ends.


Labor’s mishandling of women

15 October 2018


Relatively few people living outside Victoria would’ve have heard of Jill Hennessy, though this shouldn’t be a surprise.  A stalwart of the Labor Party in Victoria, she entered Parliament there years ago and is nowadays the Minister for Health.  To some degree, being a low-key minister can help, because ministers frequently end up in news headlines because of scandals or mismanagement, whereas credit for success goes to their leaders.

I’d first heard of Hennessy about two decades ago, when she was president of the Labor Party in Victoria, and was rated a potential parliamentarian.

Normally presidents or secretaries of political parties are behind-the-scenes people in them, especially if parties hold parliamentary seats.  Sometimes people holding these roles have been described, in unflattering terms, as powerbrokers or party hacks – many decades ago they were once described as “faceless men”, noting that few women held such roles, or even wanted them, in those days.  Often such roles lead to parliamentary careers.  I’ve lost count of how many politicians have been party presidents or secretaries first.

However, it’s not uncommon for serving parliamentarians to also hold such roles behind the scenes.  For example, John Bannon was Premier of South Australia for much of the 1980s, but he also had a stint as national president of the Labor Party at the same time.  Similarly, we all remember Paul Keating being Prime Minister during the 1990s and Treasurer in the Hawke Government for years before then, but he also spent time as president of the Labor Party in New South Wales while serving in Federal Parliament, which he’d entered in 1969.

As for Hennessy, she entered the Victorian Parliament some time ago, when she won a by-election for the seat of Altona, in western Melbourne.  This was following the resignation of former minister Lynne Kosky.

But when I first heard about Hennessy, she arguably should’ve ended up in Federal Parliament.  And her failure to get there makes one question whether the Labor Party really cares about getting more women into parliamentary seats – even after decades of arguing that it did more for women than its opponents.

It was 1999 when Hennessy sought to run for Labor in a by-election for the Federal seat of Holt, in eastern Melbourne.  This followed the resignation of Labor stalwart Gareth Evans.  In the end, she missed out, and Labor chose a little-known staffer, Anthony Byrne, for the Holt by-election.  He won it easily, and he’s still there now.

But he shouldn’t have made it.  He won Labor preselection for Holt after internal moves.  Most political followers would know that Labor has its internal factions, made of right-wingers and left-wingers and such.  In the case of Holt, key Labor figures decided on a right-winger for that.  And Byrne, being a right-winger, beat Hennessy, a left-winger, to obtain Labor preselection – even though she arguably had the better credentials.

A television news story about Labor’s internal moves on preselection was the thing through which I first heard of Hennessy.  According to this story, Hennessy in fact won an actual vote of Labor branch members in Holt – theoretically, these people decide who will be their local candidate at election time.  But senior Labor officials also had input on choosing the candidate, and they’d already done deals to ensure that Hennessy lost.  Therefore, the lesser-known Byrne got preselected.

Of course, with Hennessy now a State Labor MP and minister in Victoria, her Holt disappointment should arguably be consigned to history.  But it frequently comes back into my head whenever I hear about Labor’s record on women.  How many people know about Labor’s mishandling of women, at certain times?

And another Labor woman, Senator Penny Wong, almost lost her seat once after Labor’s mishandling.  Before an election in 2013, despite being a senior minister, Wong found herself second behind lesser-known Senator Don Farrell on the Labor Senate ticket in South Australia.  Farrell was apparently ahead of Wong for reasons regarding factions – he was right-wing and she was left-wing.   Only after an outcry was this order swapped.

At that 2013 election, support for Labor in South Australia dropped so much that Farrell ended up losing his seat.  Normally, Labor wins two Senate seats in South Australia at elections – winning only one seat was really bad.  But it could almost have been Wong who lost.  How would that have looked for a group purportedly seeking to advance the interests of women?

Choosing women doesn’t always bring success.  I’ve seen plenty of women beaten in seats that they really should’ve won.  But I’ve also seen women win seats that they should’ve lost.  Indeed Labor MPs Justine Elliot and Julie Owens were women who won seats from male rivals, including one minister, despite an overall swing against Labor at a Federal election in 2004 – both are still there now.  But is their success really understood when compared to women who’ve failed?

More Labor women than I’ve heard of could have their own stories of mishandling similaar to Hennessy and Wong.  We mightn’t hear about them, but they’re lurking somewhere.  Labor only appears to “help” women at certain times.


Sharkie shows her teeth

8 October 2018


Voter dissatisfaction with politicians seems to have increased greatly over time.  I’ve lost count of how often people indicate distrust in those elected to run governments.  Maybe this is why support for minor parties and Independents continues to grow everywhere, with the major political parties losing support once considered solid.

But support for minor players doesn’t always translate into parliamentary seats.  These minor players tend to do better in elections with several seats on offer within selected jurisdictions.  For example, the Senate in Federal Parliament has seats going to parties which win about 14.3 per cent of the vote across any given state.  Winning seats is much easier when you need less than a majority of the vote across a jurisdiction to win.  This isn’t so with the House of Representatives in Federal Parliament – seats there go to the party or candidate winning a majority of the vote, across a cluster of rural towns or city suburbs.  Minor parties in particular struggle to win that much of the vote in any such seat in an election for the House of Reps, although sometimes Independents make it.

As such, both the Liberal-National Coalition and the Labor Party end up winning most seats in the House of Reps, and their counterparts in various states.  Invariably, unless prominent alternatives are out there, votes just flow back to the Coalition and Labor after all is said and done.

When minor players break through, there’s often an element of luck.  But after getting there, they often manage to stay around for some time.  Often voters feel able to trust them like they can’t trust the major parties.

In this context, there was a great instance of a minor player getting a chance to show substance to voters earlier this year – and that minor player came out on top.

I refer to Rebekha Sharkie, who held her seat of Mayo in a by-election in July.  Perhaps lucky to get elected in 2016, Sharkie had to resign this year because of trouble regarding her citizenship.  She was one of many politicians forced out of Federal Parliament after they were found to be citizens of both Australia and other countries, thereby rendering them ineligible to be there.  At the by-election, she won with an increased majority.

Having a name like Sharkie probably makes this MP a target for jokes relating to sharks, so it’s predictable that I, as someone who loves puns, should suggest that Sharkie showed her teeth at this by-election.

Sharkie was lucky to be elected to Mayo, a seat outside Adelaide in South Australia, back in a Federal election in 2016.  Mayo had always been a Liberal-held seat since creation, but Sharkie won the seat through much local disaffection with the sitting Liberal, Jamie Briggs, as well as her affiliation with popular South Australian politician Nick Xenophon.

Briggs actually finished ahead of Sharkie on primary votes, but preferences from other candidates got Sharkie ahead.

When candidates are elected despite failing to finish first on primary votes, they might well be seen as being on some sort of probation in Parliament.  This was probably true regarding Sharkie.  She’d have been forced to show whether her win was a fluke once the next election came.  But the citizenship saga gave her an early chance, and she made the most of it, increasing her hold on Mayo.

Sharkie knows that she shows her teeth at a good time, because she’s been made to show them earlier than normal.

She’s not affiliated with Xenophon now, as he’s left politics.  But she’s done just enough for Mayo voters to trust her.  They’ll stick with her beyond the election for sure, unless fortunes really change for the Liberals.

The success of Sharkie should be seen as a boost for Independents and minor players, given their difficulties in breaking through.  Her success should inspire others in future.


Ghost votes hardly dangerous

29 September 2018


The Liberal Party has come through a month of anniversaries just after seeing off its leader in controversial circumstances.  This month marks five years since the Liberals took power in a Federal election, in September 2013, and also three years since changing leaders, from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull.  Late last month, just shy of three years as Liberal leader and Prime Minister, Turnbull survived a leadership challenge from a senior minister but resigned just days later with the calling of another leadership vote, and Scott Morrison came away with the top job.

Since stepping down as leader, Turnbull has since resigned from Parliament, and a by-election will soon take place in his seat of Wentworth, in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, which includes some expensive and exclusive areas.

But how many people remember another Liberal leadership drama which took place just months before Turnbull beat Abbott in a challenge?  It was September 2015 when Turnbull challenged Abbott for the top job, citing Abbott’s massive unpopularity and inability to get public support for various policies, and won fairly comfortably.  This challenge, though, came months after Abbott survived an unexpected leadership spill motion, albeit without a challenger.  How could this sort of thing happen?

Abbott had led the Liberals to an election win in 2013, but this didn’t happen because of voters enthusiastically backing him.  Indeed he’d been immensely unpopular as Liberal leader before that 2013 win.  As Prime Minister following that win, he continued to remain unpopular.  Sometimes you have to wonder how so unpopular a person as Abbott could ever become Prime Minister.

The main reason for Abbott’s win was a massive state of disarray and infighting within the Labor Party.  Kevin Rudd had led Labor to an election win in 2007, and was immensely popular among voters, but Labor MPs privately detested him.  When he backed down on a major environmental policy in 2010, largely due to a scare campaign run by the Liberals, his popularity dropped off, and Labor MPs used this as an excuse to dump him as leader.  Rudd seethed and went on to undermine the new Labor leader, Julia Gillard, over the following three years, until Labor MPs relented and dumped her in favour of him.  This infighting, coupled with troublesome policies, led to Abbott’s 2013 victory.

Ultimately, however, with both Gillard and Rudd having chosen to walk away from politics, voters forgot about Labor’s troubles and remembered how much they hated Abbott.  This unpopularity continued for well over a year.

By February 2015, many Liberal MPs were fed up with Abbott, and they called for a leadership spill.  But though they moved for a spill, nobody was actually looking to challenge Abbott for the leadership.  In the end, the spill never came, with a small majority of Liberal MPs voting against it.

What does that situation tell you?  It’s definitely unusual to think of a leader facing a leadership challenge without an actual challenger.  But that was what Abbott faced in February 2015.  Even though nobody was actually challenging him for the leadership, a large proportion of his MPs possibly preferred any other person but him as leader.

This challenge from a “ghost”, if I could put it that way, came back to my mind earlier this month, when I read about Abbott surviving an apparent challenge regarding preselection for his seat of Warringah, in northern Sydney.

Abbott was the only person who stood for Liberal preselection in Warringah, meaning the only person seeking the right to be the Liberal candidate in that seat when the next election comes.  In those circumstances, you must wonder why a preselection vote even occurred.  But even with no challenger, perhaps like having a ghost running, apparently a large proportion of Liberal branch members in Warringah preferred an alternative to Abbott.

What good is a vote for an alternative when one doesn’t exist?  Beyond maybe sending a message, if possible, a non-existent alternative can’t win a vote.

These ghost votes, such as the failed spill against Abbott in 2015 and a challenge from nobody in Warringah now, can’t actually end careers.  I’d hardly consider them dangerous.  While Abbott probably isn’t at risk of losing his seat to Labor, perhaps a well-known Independent candidate could beat him – but someone must be willing to stand up and take him on.  Politicians can’t lose to ghosts.


Challenge awaits victorious McGirr

21 September 2018


The Liberal Party took a major beating in southern New South Wales earlier this month.  Facing a by-election after a State MP suddenly walked away from politics amid a corruption scandal, it shouldn’t have mattered that much.  But it lost that by-election in a big way.

The by-election was in the seat of Wagga Wagga, which had been in Liberal hands for many decades.  Liberal MP Daryl Maguire had won it in 1999, when former minister Joe Schipp retired, while Schipp had previously held it since 1975 after the resignation of former minister Wal Fife.  After nearly two decades in the seat, Maguire hadn’t done anywhere near as much as his predecessors.  But even when he resigned with a corruption cloud hanging over his head, it didn’t seem likely that the Liberals could be at risk of losing – let alone actually lose.

At the last State election, in March 2015, the Liberals won Wagga Wagga pretty comfortably.  Maguire won a small majority of primary votes, but even a small majority meant that he didn’t need preferences from other candidates.  As such, this kind of seat shouldn’t have been considered vulnerable.

But at the by-election this month, the Liberal vote virtually halved.  The Liberals picked up about a quarter of the vote, with Independent candidate Joe McGirr winning roughly the same share of the vote.

As for the Labor Party, which seeks to return to power at the next election after losing in a massive way in 2011, it took less than a quarter of the vote in Wagga Wagga, after taking not much more than a quarter in 2015.

Interestingly, in the immediate aftermath of the election, even with votes still being counted, it was said that the Liberals had definitely lost.  But at first there were doubts as to whether Labor or McGirr would win.  In the end, however, McGirr came away as the victorious one.

Because of how long Wagga Wagga had previously been in Liberal hands, and with Labor largely rated no chance of winning the seat, losing this seat definitely would’ve stung the Liberals.  They’d taken power in 2011 with a big win, before losing some ground in 2015.  Naturally, you’d expect governments to lose some shine within a few years of being elected.  But their popularity has undoubtedly dropped off in recent years, and it’s been suggested that they could lose their parliamentary majority at the next election, which comes in March 2019.  Indeed the Liberals, in tandem with the Nationals, hold not much more than fifty seats out of ninety-three available in the Lower House of Parliament, where is where governments are formed.  This means that losing a handful of seats at the next election will cost the Liberals and Nationals their joint majority.

But Labor can’t draw much comfort from this.  Notwithstanding that it probably had little of winning the Wagga Wagga by-election, many of its people will have thought that it should’ve done better.  Its problem is the presence of more than just a few Lower House crossbenchers – this almost means that it needs to win two seats for every seat that the Liberals and Nationals lose.  Moreover, Labor leader Luke Foley largely hasn’t looked like a would-be election winner.  After March 2019, he could be Premier – but it doesn’t look or sound apparent with what he says or does.  He might well finish up as the winner of the next election by virtue only of widespread voter anger with Liberal leader and Premier Gladys Berejiklian.  This hardly sounds inspiring.

At the same time, there’s still a challenge that awaits McGirr following his victory in Wagga Wagga.  I’ve seen Independents, and sometimes minor parties, win seats in by-elections in the past – only to lose them when the next general election came around.  McGirr has only a handful of months to prove himself to Wagga Wagga voters, or his by-election win will be for nothing.

Because the Liberals and Nationals together still hold a parliamentary majority, McGirr’s impact mightn’t be much.  After all, during late 2016 the Nationals lost Orange, one of their safest seats, to a minor party at a by-election, but I hardly remember hearing or seeing anything from the person who won the by-election since then.  What does that tell you?

There’s no doubt that McGirr won over voters in Wagga Wagga who were angry with the Liberals but unwilling to trust Labor.  He also won over many voters who’d otherwise support Labor only because of disliking the Liberals.  As such, can he hold them, and win over more, between now and the next election?

The hit to the Liberals, and the lack of enthusiasm for Labor, can’t hide the hard work that the victorious McGirr now faces.  His work is cut out until NSW voters head off to the polls.  Failing to meet this challenge might see McGirr disappear from politics almost before people even of his recent victory.


Morrison’s sun late rising

16 September 2018


Before September 2015, the Liberal Party looked on course for disaster.  Despite a big election win just two years earlier, it became immensely unpopular.  Its win was in no small part due to several years of leadership infighting within the Labor Party.

If not for that infighting, Labor would never have lost an election to Tony Abbott, the Liberal leader who’d long been immensely unpopular with voters.  Abbott came very close to defeating Labor after running a scare campaign over Labor’s plan to use tax reform to reduce environmental pollution – he described Labor’s plan as a great new tax on everything.  Labor lost its majority at an election in 2010, and managed to stay in office after doing deals to secure the support of crossbench MPs.  In the aftermath, Abbott engaged in immensely negative and nasty tactics as Opposition Leader, trying whatever he could to bring about a fresh election.

It didn’t help Labor to have Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard at each other’s throats over leadership.  In 2007, Rudd had led Labor to its first election victory in more than ten years, and as Prime Minister he enjoyed huge popularity among voters.  But during 2010, his popularity went into freefall, prompting Labor to vote him out of the Labor leadership in favour of Gillard, who became the first female PM in Australian history as a result.  Rudd seethed for years over his dumping, and with Gillard never that popular among voters, Labor MPs turned back to him in June 2013.  But an election was due later that year, and Rudd lost to Abbott.

Although Abbott was never popular, the squabbling of Rudd and Gillard made Labor even less popular.  It seemed that while Rudd and Gillard were around, voters forgot how much they disliked Abbott.  But when Gillard retired at the election that Abbott won in 2013, after which Rudd also walked away from politics, Labor’s leadership squabbles were soon forgotten, and Abbott’s unpopularity was again there to see.

While Abbott was leading the Liberals, Labor suddenly looked capable of winning the next election, which was due in 2016.

In early 2015, after the Liberals and their allies had lost elections over recent months in both Victoria and Queensland, Liberal MPs moved to spill the leadership and get rid of Abbott.  Nobody, however, was prepared to challenge Abbott, and the attempt to spill the leadership only just failed.

Despite the narrow defeat of the attempted spill, as well as the absence of anybody willing to challenge Abbott, nearly half of Liberal MPs were itching to get rid of him.

Over the next few months, although it was clear to most observers that Abbott could never win the next election, I felt that the Liberals would stick with him until after the election had come and gone.  Presumably wanting to avoid going through what Labor went through in terms of leadership, the Liberals looked like they’d endure defeat under Abbott at the election and then turn to someone else.

At that time, my feeling was that the next Liberal leader would be Scott Morrison.

Elected to Federal Parliament in the 2007 election, Morrison made his name as the Liberal spokesman on Immigration and later as Immigration Minister.  He was able to cut through to voters with simple messages, and was also a good negotiator when dealing with crossbenchers in the Senate, where the Liberals lacked a majority.

These things made me think that Morrison would lead the Liberals after Abbott.

But I didn’t think about Morrison again as a future leader after Abbott was dumped from the leadership in September 2015.  This was when the Liberal leadership went over to Malcolm Turnbull.

I didn’t believe that the Liberals would turn to him, because he’d long been known for holding views, particularly on environmental issues, which countless Liberal supporters couldn’t abide.  But they turned to him, and initially he was much more popular than his predecessor.

However, he looked unsure of himself, and he only just won an election in 2016, even though his predecessor would’ve undoubtedly lost that election.

After the election, though, despite managing some policy successes and achieving one major goal of introducing same-sex marriage, he remained unsure and often dithered over policy direction.  The trouble was that we all knew him to be someone with principles and convictions, but he could never act on them because too many Liberal MPs couldn’t abide them.

Basically, we weren’t seeing “the real Malcolm” – and we knew it.

With these things all troubling him, and with the Liberals behind Labor in various opinion polls through last year and then this year, there was a leadership challenge against him in August.  He won the challenge, but his opponents kept the pressures on to get rid of him, and they succeeded, with another challenge following just days later.  That later challenge was settled in favour of Morrison.

Previous talk had been of Morrison becoming Liberal leader after Abbott, at least prior to the events of September 2015.  As such, Morrison’s sun could be described perhaps as late rising.  After all, in the season of winter, the sun comes up later than it does in summer.  Morrison and the Liberals still trail in the polls, though, so they remain stuck in a rut and must get out soon before Labor runs clear.


Liberal vote heading south

3 September 2018


Days remain until many voters in southern New South Wales head to the polls for an unexpected by-election.  State MP Daryl Maguire recently resigned amid corruption allegations relating to property development, triggering a by-election in Wagga Wagga, which he’s held for nearly twenty years, and that’s about to come.  Although allegations about corruption relating to property development are nothing new, the accusations aimed at Maguire hadn’t become known for long before he walked.  I’ve seen numerous MPs hang around despite having such allegations hanging over their heads.

At first glance, however, the by-election shouldn’t be worth paying attention to.  Wagga Wagga has been in the hands of the Liberal Party for longer than most people probably can remember.  Indeed the two people to hold this seat before Maguire, namely Joe Schipp and Wal Fife, were both ministers in Liberal governments.  Maguire himself never rose to that level, but he looked like hanging around in his seat for ages.

At recent elections, he’s held his seat pretty comfortably, with the Labor Party never really having threatened him.  And Labor isn’t considered a chance in this seat.

Indeed two elections ago, in 2011, finishing second behind Maguire was an Independent candidate, Joe McGirr, who won about a third of the vote in that election.  But it might well have been a one-off, because back then Labor was being routed right across NSW, losing office for the first time in sixteen years and copping an almighty caning.  Normally Labor would’ve finished second.  Maguire, in any case, won a majority of the primary vote in Wagga Wagga, so he didn’t need anyone else’s preferences to hold his seat.

But there’s been talk that this by-election will be different.  The Liberals are less popular than they’ve been since winning office in 2011, and of late it’s been said that the Liberals could lose this by-election.  McGirr will be running again, and he might well in a position to pick up votes from people angry with the Liberals but unwilling to turn to Labor.

Notwithstanding the growth in voter anger around NSW, I’m not convinced that Wagga Wagga will change hands at the by-election.  There are numerous candidates running, but not one of them stands out as a credible alternative to the Liberals.

In a seat like Wagga Wagga, given its length of time in Liberal hands, you’re more likely than not to vote either for the Liberals or against them.  If you oppose them, you might well end up voting for Labor, because Labor usually comes across as the only visible alternative, however unpopular it might be.  I think that in Wagga Wagga, many voters actually stick reluctantly to the Liberals because they can’t bring themselves to support Labor, and many other voters end up reluctantly supporting Labor because they dislike the Liberals too much.  This story might also apply in other seats around the state!

Of course, I’ve seen seats change hands from the major parties to minor players, whether Independent or minor party candidates, mostly at by-elections but sometimes at general elections.  Often these have been seats where a major party’s main rival has no realistic chance of winning.  I know of seats lost by the Liberals to Independents in years past, especially in northern Sydney, but they’re not generally considered winnable for Labor, while lately we’ve all seen Labor come under threat from the Greens in inner suburban seats where the Liberals wouldn’t stand a chance.  Normally, such seats wouldn’t rate much of a mention at election time, but different players can make them vulnerable.

As for Wagga Wagga, it might’ve been rated more vulnerable for the Liberals, if there hadn’t been that many candidates.  Apart from McGirr, there’s also another Independent running, namely Paul Funnell.  Labor and some other minor parties are also running.

The thing to remember is that when voters in NSW face general elections or by-elections, they can just vote “1” on their ballot papers.  They don’t have to mark preferences unless they want to.  This is different from Federal elections, where they usually have to mark preferences in every box on their ballot papers.  Because preferences are only optional in NSW polls, voters don’t have to give them to anybody.  This makes it harder for some candidates who might otherwise rely on preferences from others to get them ahead.

The Wagga Wagga by-election could show what first-past-the-post voting can be like, unless any candidate gets a strong primary vote or flow of preferences.  There’s little doubt about the Liberal vote heading south here – if you’ll pardon the pun.  They could possibly lose the by-election.  But this isn’t by any means certain.  Support for minor players, and who finishes second, might be the only point of interest in this by-election, regardless of how much it hurts the Liberals.


By-elections leave Turnbull stung

20 August 2018


The Turnbull Coalition Government didn’t really have a great deal to lose during five by-elections last month.  It didn’t hold any of the seats where the by-elections were taking place, so any loss wouldn’t have made a difference in terms of seat numbers in Federal Parliament.  But the results of the by-elections, which were dubbed the “Super Saturday” because of how there were on the same day, have seemingly sent the Coalition into a state of panic.

Certainly I didn’t expect much in the by-elections.  I’d felt that the by-elections probably would come and go, and leave people wondering what the fuss regarding them was about.  This was the case with some of the by-elections.  But in at least one other instance, there’s been a massive reaction.

The Labor Party held four of the five seats where the by-elections took place last month.  Indeed the Coalition didn’t bother contesting two of those seats.  Holding the last seat was a crossbench MP who got elected largely because of the popularity of another figure not of Coalition or Labor stock.

The by-elections came about because of four MPs having been deemed ineligible for when they contested the last election, in 2016, as a result of questions about dual citizenship.  Another MP quit for personal reasons.

There were concerns about voters would react to Labor regarding dual citizenship, because while this was causing politicians from other parties to disappear from Parliament after this saga broke around a year ago, Labor was adamant that none of its people had problems with dual citizenship, and that all checks were done before the 2016 election.  But with Labor people having been caught out earlier this year, Labor looked dishonest.  And with many voters still not warming either to Labor or its leader, any loss in these by-elections would’ve stung Labor.

Leaving aside the two Labor seats that the Coalition didn’t contest, the by-elections were in seats that the Coalition lost in 2016.  There was therefore interest in how the Coalition would fare, particular as opinion polls have put the Coalition behind Labor for some time since the last election.

As expected, though, Labor easily held the two seats which the Coalition skipped, namely Fremantle and Perth, both urban seats in Western Australia.

The Labor-held seat of Braddon, in western Tasmania, looked like a close contest going into the by-election, and it appeared too close on the night.  Labor ultimately held it, though there was hardly any swing.

There was big interest in another seat, Mayo, a provincial seat in South Australia which the Coalition lost in 2016 to Rebekha Sharkie, who ran in those days under the banner of popular South Australian politician Nick Xenophon and was now running almost without his influence.  The Coalition had always held Mayo since its creation until 2016.  The questions surrounded whether the Coalition could retake the seat with a candidate whose father had long it before, or how Sharkie would fare when effectively standing on her own two feet – with all due respect, Sharkie’s party looks less visible without Xenophon’s presence.  In the end, there was a swing to Sharkie, who’d narrowly won in 2016, and now the seat is fairly safe for her.  She’ll probably hold it for a very long time.

But there was a massive reaction in the last seat holding a by-election, Longman, an outer urban seat in Queensland.  Here there was a decent swing to Labor, which wouldn’t have meant much if not for a bigger fall in the Coalition primary vote, only softened because of preferences flowing well to the Coalition.

With three by-election defeats, one of them including a swing against the Coalition of some note, you’d expect that these by-elections would leave Malcolm Turnbull stung.  Since becoming Prime Minister in 2015, Turnbull hasn’t fared well among voters, at least in the opinion polls.  They’ve long been pointing a Coalition defeat when the next general election comes.  But the size of the swing in Queensland, where the Coalition has quite a few marginal seats, has made Coalition MPs panic.

Lately we’ve been seeing a revolt of sorts against Turnbull.  His leadership looks less secure as a result, though I don’t see any credible alternatives out there.

Labor would be rubbing its hands with glee in the aftermath of the by-elections, which could’ve damaged it.  The by-election vibes look like hanging around.


Spotlight again on Lindsay

13 August 2018


Voters in the Federal seat of Lindsay might well be used to the spotlight. Indeed their seat’s been under the spotlight more than once over many years.

Created in 1984, this seat lies at the foot of the Blue Mountains, on the western fringe of Sydney, taking in Penrith and surrounding suburbs.  But while it’s changed hands only four times since its creation, it’s done so three times in the past eleven years, so it looks volatile nowadays.

Of late, Lindsay has been in the spotlight because of Emma Husar, who won the seat for the Labor Party at the last election, in 2016.  She’s only a first-term MP, but at the next election she’ll be retiring, as a result of allegations against her which aren’t that helpful for anybody in her position.  If she hadn’t announced her retirement, it was possible that she’d face a challenge to her preselection as a Labor candidate.

If not for the allegations bringing Husar’s political career to an end, what prospects would there be of Labor losing the seat at the next election?

To be honest, the chance of Labor losing isn’t that great.  But given the seat’s history, you probably wouldn’t ignore the seat at election time.

After all, Labor first won the seat at its creation, in 1984, and held it until 1996.  The changing of hands in 1996 was quite dramatic, because it was considered fairly safe for Labor in those days.  At an election in that year, there was a massive swing away from Labor all over the country, resulting in one of Labor’s biggest election defeats in history.  Despite the size of the swing across the country, Lindsay shouldn’t have been considered vulnerable, because Labor’s margin in it was larger than what the election swing was.  But Lindsay fell, in one of the biggest swings in the country.

The Liberal Party won Lindsay for the first time at that election, which also marked its first Federal election win since 1980.  John Howard led the Liberals to a massive election win and became Prime Minister, holding the top job for more than a decade, until losing an election in 2007.  And Lindsay was one of the Liberal losses of 2007.

Jackie Kelly was the successful Liberal candidate in 1996.  She really was a surprise winner, because Lindsay was considered far from vulnerable for Labor.  But there were massive swings against Labor, especially in middle-to-outer suburban areas around Sydney and other big cities, where Labor lost many seats, very unexpectedly in some instances.  Lindsay was among the unexpected Labor losses.

Later in 1996, Kelly was booted out of Parliament, because of problems surrounding her eligibility to have even run as a candidate.  A by-election was subsequently held before year’s end, and there was another swing to the Liberals.

When Australians next went to the polls, in 1998, Howard was proposing to reform the national taxation system, which wasn’t exactly popular with voters.  Kelly was one of many Liberals who’d won seats in 1996 as a result of voters comprehensively throwing out Labor, but they were expected to be one-term MPs and lose their seats at the next election when it came.  Howard’s bold tax reform wouldn’t have helped them.  Because Lindsay was marginal, it was one of many seats under the spotlight.

But Kelly managed to hold her seat, and lots of other Liberals were also able to hold their seats.  Howard narrowly won the election, largely because of them.

Lindsay was again under the spotlight when the next election came, in 2001, being one of many marginal Liberal seats.  But Kelly held it again, and Howard won that election as well.  History repeated at an election to follow, in 2004.

By the time of the 2007 election, Howard’s popularity had waned.  Kelly, meanwhile, had announced her retirement.  I’d felt that the Liberals really couldn’t hold Lindsay without her – and so it proved.  Howard also lost the election.

The successful Labor candidate in Lindsay in 2007 was David Bradbury.  He was able to hold it again in 2010, as Labor narrowly survived a close election.  Many people believed that the Liberals ultimately lost the election as a result of failing to win key marginal seats from Labor, such as Lindsay.  But Bradbury lost to Liberal candidate Fiona Scott in 2013, at the same time that Labor was losing office.

In 2016, Labor regained Lindsay through Husar, but didn’t win enough seats to win the election overall.  This was the first time that Lindsay hadn’t gone with the party winning the election overall since its creation.  Now that Husar’s about to go from the political scene, her seat might be watched more closely.

Marginal seats, where it only requires a relatively handful of voters having a change of mind for a seat to change hands, invariably have the spotlight on them whenever elections come.  But sometimes, once elections have passed, the spotlight either stays on these seats outside election time or comes on them for whatever reason.  Because of the Husar affair, in a region often watched in elections, it’s again on Lindsay.

The seat will probably stay with Labor at the next election.  The Liberals currently lack the popularity needed for a chance at winning.  But the spotlight probably looks like staying on this seat because of its marginal status.